The Christmas Table by Donna VanLiere

The Christmas Table is book 10 of Donna VanLiere’s Christmas Hope series and I am proud to admit I have read them all!! Loved them all!! Cried through every single one. Imagine everything that makes a Hallmark type movie in a delightful book with beautiful writing and characters you want more of. Each book builds on the one before but can also stand alone as VanLiere reintroduces them in a subtle way that feels natural and doesn’t distract from the story line.

VanLiere takes us back to 1972 to start the story of a set of recipes stashed in a homemade kitchen table. The table was built by a hard working husband that desired to give his wife a place to serve her family and friends but would also serve as piece of family history. What the husband didn’t see coming was tragedy and illness that could threaten to destroy the future he imagined for the table and his family. Shift to modern day and the table resurfaces when a newly wed couple needs a place eat as a growing family. The new wife finds the recipes in a hidden drawer. For both families the recipes provided a way to connect with the past and provide the wives of ’72 and present with the instructions on providing for their family through delicious meals but also life lessons and stories of family. In perfect Christmas Hope fashion the recipes will find a way to reunite the past and present and give the reader the perfect Christmas miracle and story of hope.

This year more than ever I needed a story like this. I needed to cry because things do work out sometimes and there is a happy ending.

I gave The Christmas Table five stars because a book that brings ever emotion gets every star.

Thank you Netgalley, Donna VanLiere and St. Martin’s Press for the advanced reader copy in exchange for my honest opinion.

The Return by Nicholas Sparks

I am an avid Nicholas Sparks reader. I can’t help it. A new title drops and I have to grab it. Sparks newest book did not disappoint. It’s amazing to me that I could read a Sparks book with out knowing he wrote it and recognize the author immediately, his writing style is consistent and familiar. I know many people consider Spark’s books to fall under romance but I would say that while there is definitely romance within his plots, there is always so much more.

In The Return, readers find romance but not an easy one. Before there is love there is so much pain and unknown paths and not sures. There is the family aspect that is a classic Sparks theme and the helping of strangers.

Trevor Benson is a veteran of the War on Terrorism and with his visible and not so visible injuries he finds himself in his mom’s home town of New Bern, NC to handle the affairs of late grandfather. Immediately upon arriving in town he notices a young girl, Callie, that clearly had a part in his grandfather’s life but Trevor isn’t sure just how involved until later in his uncovering the mystery that surrounded why his grandfather died in a town no one knew he was in. Trevor notices another woman in town, Sheriff Deputy Natalie Masterson and it just might be love at first sight. Natalie has a past that she isn’t prepared to share with Trevor because she thinks she might also love him. Trevor only came to town to take care of what his family left behind but he finds so much more including a place to heal and help others in their own healing journey.

I gave The Return **** and I can’t wait for Nicholas’s next book (not that I know there is one, just hoping)

Beach Read by Emily Henry

Beach Read by Emily Henry was an unexpected romance, one of my favorite reads of the year. Because of the title I was hesitant to read it this late in the year (I’m a seasonal reader) but it turns out the title is misleading, in the best way, and it’s not really a beach read at all. What this book did have was romance, reclaimed love, redemption and facing the past.

When January Andrews, romance author, inherits her late father’s house she also inherits secrets that changes the way she sees her the father, the father that was once the center of her world. January moves to her father’s beach house to prepare it to sell but she also hopes to meet the deadline of her upcoming novel. Upon arriving she discovers she has a neighbor that may be a distraction with his loud music and grumpy attitude but what she doesn’t know until later is that her neighbor is Augustus Everett the best seller of literary fiction and a rival from her past. Once reacquainted, January and Gus joke with each other that their particular genre is the better genre regardless that they are both struggling to produce something new. They strike a deal to help the other learn to write and research for the opposing genre. The deal leads to time well spent and feelings ignited.

I loved that there was definitely a romance but it was hidden within two people that had to overcome issues and secrets of heartache in their past. This title is for the lover of romance and friendship and forgiveness. I did love the unexpectedness of this not actually being a beach read, clever. This is my first book from Emily but I will be reading more for sure (I just went over and added all her books to my Goodreads “want to read” list).

I gave Beach Read 4 stars.

The Companion by Katie Alender

The Companion was The Read Rover Book Club pick for October and while it was good and twisted and the perfect October read, I don’t think it was as scary as others did, in other words, it didn’t keep me up all night or cause me to jump at my own shadow.

After a tragic accident that leaves Margot an orphan she’s sent to briefly live with in an orphanage where the other girls decide she must be lucky. Lucky because she survived the accident and lucky that she gets her own room, because her night terrors keep others awake. Then her luck strikes again when she’s taken in by the Sutton family. Margot was told Mr. Sutton owed her father a favor and that’s why she was chosen but when she gets to her new home she realizes there might be more to her rescue. While her luck may have gotten her this far the life she will live in the Gothic, isolated home and family is anything but.

I like the story line and there were some moments I was stumped on who did what and what would happen next, there were even some things I didn’t pick up on until fellow Rovers pointed it out. I didn’t like how the ending move so fast and wrapped up quickly and a little too clean and the romance that was slipped in wasn’t necessary for me.

I enjoyed the book and would recommend it to those that like mystery, psychological thrillers and twisted family narratives.

I gave The Companion 4 stars.

In Five Years by Rebecca Serle

In Five Years was a book club book that I was sadly unable to attend but I did finish and chatted with friends that also read. I was surprised at how angry I felt when I finished. I had invested myself in an ending that didn’t happen but when I’m honest with myself, that ending was a little wrapped in a bow ending, unrealistic.

Dannie is type A and strictly following her five year plan. She has the perfect boyfriend, rocked the interview with the perfect job and everything is perfectly of track for her until she falls asleep and wakes up five years later in a different life. After navigating the shock of where she is and who she is/with, she reawakes back in 2020 (sheesh, am I right?). Here life seems to be where she left it but slowly she must face that her five year plan may not be exactly as she planned. Can she handle that?

I loved this book so much and here’s why…despite being a military spouse where my life is incredibly unpredictable, I have a five year plan and a plan for tomorrow and I get thrown off track when that plan is derailed especially by outside forces in life that I can’t control. This book was a great reminder that my plan is not the plan and if taking a spiritual look at things, only God controls that plan. Dannie’s life was derailed but in the end that derailment led her to the life she was supposed to live and she found happiness.

I gave In Five Years 4 stars and recommend to lovers of love, friendship, women’s lit, romance without the gush and life lessons.

The House on Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune

The House on the Cerulean Sea was my first read with The ReadRover book Club over on Instagram and it didn’t disappoint! Lauren, our fearless leader even convinced the author, TJ Klune, to join our Zoom discussion. Talking with TJ brought so much to the conversation and really helped me appreciate the inspiration behind this amazing story!

For our book club Lauren sends the sweetest letters to hype us up, usually a game of some sort to help us win the next months book and a beautiful bookmark with a fun rating template on the back. It has been such a fun way to read with friends.

The House on the Cerulean Sea is a fantasy novel about Linus, a Case Worker at the Department for the Care of Magical Youth. Linus is called to the Upper Management to receive a new assignment to oversee the Marsyas Island Orphanage where 6 of the most magical and therefore outcast children reside, to include the son of the Devil. While there Linus finds himself, although I’m not sure he realized he was missing.

I’ll be honest when I started the book, I was a little iffy because fantasy isn’t typically my favorite genre and by that I mean other than Harry Potter, there haven’t been many books in that genre I like. But when I’m reading for a book club I keep going. I was blown away by the emotions I went through. I was so angry for the children in the house and I was so sad that Linus just seemed to be wondering through life. I’m not sure I would have picked up on some of themes without TJ’s explanations but the main theme and take away for me was that we can’t discount people for what we perceive or what we think we know about them. What if Linus would have shied away from Lucifer and what if Linus wouldn’t have pushed the limit with Upper Management to get what he needed to truly understand the love Arthur was able to posses for the children in his care? Without knowing that love, Linus would have missed out on the love of his life and becoming the man he was supposed to be.

I loved the way Linus named the children he met in the home. As a reader it was helpful in keeping up with the characters as they were not typical children. I also loved that it was a one on one encounter and potentially dangerous situation with Lucifer, the son of the devil, that led to the breakdown of walls between Arthur and Linus leading to their eventual love.

In our conversation with TJ we learned that to him, Linus represented “everyman”, he wasn’t based on anyone in his life, in fact none of the characters were but some of the situations were. TJ has written 25 books and after “meeting” him I can say I will be reading more. He was so genuine and seemed so excited to join in on the convo.

I would recommend this book to anyone that loves a story of acceptance, fantasy, love, and justice. I gave it five stars and would have given more if I had them.

You Are Not Alone by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen

You Are Not Alone was a fast paced, question provoking, who did it and what the heck is going on type of book! This is the third book I’ve read by this dynamic duo and will read more for sure.

Shay Miller is a little lost and looking for both love and success. After an unfortunate event she finds herself the new friend, or is it project, of the Moore sisters and their hodge podge group of friends. At first it’s hard to know why this mix is a group at all but as the story unfolds and the plot thickens the connection because evident. Shay will do anything to fit in with these new friends and before she realizes what is happening she begins to lose herself. Can she find her true path before it’s too late?

I did not see the conclusion coming at all. I thought all along that it was evident and I was a little disappointed but man was I wrong. You Are Not Alone is a mystery but not really a thriller. I recommend this to those that love a good mystery and story of finding yourself.

I gave this 4 stars.

Thank you Netgalley and St. Martin’s Press for the advanced readers copy in exchange for my honest opinion.

A Little Care Going Along Way

Care Package Ideas and Themes: Korea Edition

One of my favorite things to do to countdown the time during a deployment or long rotation is to send care packages or letters every month. In the age of email, FB, Facetime and countless other ways to communicate instantly, the use of snail mail is gone to the wayside. But there is something romantic and extra special about receiving mail when you’re away from home. This rotation I feel like the added step of themed packages is even more important because J can go to the PX or even Amazon and get whatever he needs so these packages have to be more about what he wants or what we want to send him to say we’re thinking of him and miss him and want him to have a little bit of home.

The goal for us is to send a package each month and I just mailed the 3rd one yesterday, time is moving!

September : Hulk Smash This Deployment

This box was mostly things J realized he left or things he couldn’t fit in his final bag, and lets be real, September doesn’t have a holiday to work with for a theme. We wanted to give some encouragement and let our guy know he is our favorite hero!

October: We Miss You Boo

This box was filled with more things J forgot, random things he bought on Prime Day while in quarantine, plus a few bags worth of candy. Apparently the little ghost guy that was supposed to pop didn’t make the trip but we tried!

November: Happy Birthday and Happy Thanksgiving

Jason is a Thanksgiving baby so sometimes those celebrations get combined but I try to make sure Jason has a special treat or special time to celebrate him. We did do a combo box but I think he’ll still feel appreciated and celebrated. I also added an advent study for us to do together, yet apart. We included dinosaur themed birthday party decor, birthday cake flavored snacks, a few gifts, turkey jerky, craisins and pringles for Thanksgiving dinner. I know Jason will have a delicious meal at the DFAC (one of my favorite traditions) but themed snacks are fun also.

December: We miss you Snow much this Christmas

December was my favorite box to pack and send. We packed it full of gifts and little pieces of home to help Christmas feel a little more like we’re together. The kids each go shopping with my mom to buy J and I gifts and this year that was extra special since J wasn’t here to help the kids surprise me and vice versa. We also included J’s Cowboy Christmas tree that I sent to him on his second deployment to Kuwait. The little ornaments are all cowboy themed and fitting for his call sign. I also added J’s stocking from home, it just felt right for him to have it with him. I love that he made a Christmas corner. My favorite part of this box was the New Year’s Eve Kiss…get it??

The Night Swim by Megan Goldin

I really enjoyed the concept of this book! As a fan of true crime and unsolved mysteries, this was a fun story line to read. It almost reminded me of the podcast Serial meets the Unsolved Mystery show, the perfect combo.

Overnight podcast sensation Rachel Krall, heads to Neapolis to cover a rape trial for her popular true crime podcast but when she gets there she is shocked to find there may be more than one crime that needs her attention. When Rachel first gets into town she finds a note on her windshield by Hannah, the sister of a victim involved in a crime several decades before. While Rachel may be creeped out a little to know that someone is aware of her movements, she’s also unable to turn her back on an unsolved mystery. Are the trial and the cold case linked and will Rachel find similarities that may help her reach resolve? The questions that must have answers are endless.

The narration changes as the voice changes; between the letters Hannah left Rachel, the podcast recordings and the plot line of the book itself. I felt the emotion through the narration and was able to follow along even with the transitions and multiple characters.

My favorite character and one I felt was important was Rachel’s producer. He was not on the scene but acted as a sounding board and helper as the crimes unfolded. I love a character like that, important detail without a true presence. While there were a lot of moving parts and characters I was totally surprised by the “who done its”.

I would recommend this to those that like true crime, mystery, cold case. I would recommend to adult only as some of the language and detail is a little rough.

Thank you Netgalley, St. Martin’s Press and Macmillan Audio for the advanced copy in exchange for my honest opinion.